When we set up SPARC in the 1980s, whatever we sought from the municipality or government for slum dwellers it was not feasible because the DP (Development Plans) did not permit it. When we carefully studied the plans and saw spaces for “housing the dis-housed” and went to see the land, it always had others using it for a different purpose occupying that land. In frustration we raised this issue with the then chief secretary of Maharashtra who had also been the municipal commissioner of Mumbai about this feature of the development plan, he benignly smiled and said that the DP is a manifestation of what we envision, and that reality is very different. Interpreted for the urban poor, you can’t really ask the city what you need as land for housing because all the land we have marked for you is already occupied.
Today the DP is being prepared and all these old ghosts of lack of accurate data, unclear and contradictory data sets are coming to bite the process. When challenges to plan are not accommodated and addressed in each plan, they clearly produce unregulated response. The poor squat where they can, when they can’t find a space to stay near work, and the elite equally ignore the rules. Both pay bribes for the regulatory process to ignore their presence and turn a blind eye, and the unregulated growth increases exponentially.
Playing with data is a routine strategy that government agencies play. State and city institutions are known to inflate and deflate data on poverty in slums based on whom the report is is being planned for. So when the data used for preparing the Mumbai DP says there is a 18% dip in slums, what are we to make of this?
How do we link this to the fact that the census definition requires a slum a cluster to have more than a certain number of dwelling to be counted under the census connect with this factor? What do we do when even lower level government data collection refuses to count the households who live as renters in the mezzanines of huts?